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Study Finds that Long Term Relaxation Benefits Genes

Update Date: May 03, 2013 11:02 AM EDT

People have known that relaxation, meditation and yoga can be beneficial to mental and physical health. These tactics can help lower and help one deal with stress. Previous researchers have found that during these soothing methods, the body's genes switch into a different mode that helps counteract the chemicals that are released during stressful situations. According to a new study, researchers looked into the effects of relaxation and gene activation in the long term and they found that relaxation could enhance the benefits.

The research team, headed by Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, looked at 52 participants. Half of the volunteers had meditated for four to 20 years while the other half was considered to be beginners in using relaxation techniques. The experimenters took blood samples before and after a 20 minutes relaxation session that was guided via a CD. The beginner group participated in two of these sessions. The first one required them to listen to a CD about general health education while the second one required them to meditate.

The researchers discovered four groups of changes in gene expression. All of the changes happened after the participants used relaxation methods. The groups of changes involved the mitochondria, genes related to insulin production, genes linked to pathways and genes linked to telomeres, which are a part of chromosomes.

"These changes lead to [mitochondria] being more stable and more controlled. The shorter the telomere, the more the aging process is manifest. What the relaxation response is consistent with is stabilizing the telomeres and making the less likely to break down," Benson said. "The longer you evoke the relaxation response over time - years as opposed to weeks as opposed to once or twice - the more profound the changes."

All of these changes contribute to better moods and energy levels. The researchers explained that although there is no one-way of practicing relaxation methods, people could devise their own methods in achieving these benefits. The researchers recommend that people should practice these methods for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

"It should be a daily habit. People have been doing it for millennia. Now we have a scientific basis to prove its worth. It's wonderful to be alive to see it," Benson said. Benson was also a part of a study in the 1970s that first discovered relaxation response.

The study was published in PLoS ONE.

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